MGI Tipster – Volume 12, Issue 3

March 7, 2013   |   Vol. 12   |   Issue 3
Fundamentals of Building Corporate Partnerships

It’s a common perception that the largest and savviest associations do it best. In fact, with proper guidance almost any membership organization can do it, too:

Develop highly productive and lucrative corporate partnerships that enhance the corporation’s image and expand the benefits an organization is able to offer.

Many associations relegate sponsorships to single items such as a logo on a convention tote or lanyard. Strategic partnerships, on the other hand, coordinate sponsorships across the entire organization to deliver far more valuable results for both sponsor and association. Partnership activities can be scheduled to drive both revenue growth and cash flow throughout the year rather than be limited to an annual event.

The March 21st ASAE Alexandria Brown Bag Luncheon will present a case study on how the National Business Officers Association turned an average performing sponsorship program into a highly successful and profitable corporate partnership that increased revenue by 45 percent. The noon session at MGI’s J. Scott McBride Education Center is free and open to the public. Preregistration is required.

The value exchange

Many corporations want to be seen as trusted partners who help organizations support their missions, as long as both receive value from the relationship. Unfortunately, many associations don’t maximize the potential of a corporate relationship because they may not fully understand how partnerships work.

The equation is fairly simple: corporations want exposure; organizations want non-dues revenue. The knack is to design ways that do both.

Partnership potential

Consider: Of 100 conference exhibitors, it’s highly likely that ten have the resources to invest further if they see value in it. That’s not an unmanageable number and certainly justifies trying to lift the all-too-common exhibit sales business model to a more productive level.

Partner aspirations

Let’s understand what sponsors want:

  • To be acknowledged as strategic partners who support education and mission-driven initiatives
  • To gain prestige, visibility, and preferred yet reasonable access to members
  • To become valued partners recognized for their investments in shared goals

To make this happen, association executives must commit to a new paradigm: mission-focused business development. That means stepping beyond the meetings department’s tote bags and lanyards to a broader program that meets sponsors’ aspirations to “be, gain, and become” true partners.

5 steps to partnership

This is the path to building relationships, starting with the hardest first.

1. The silo mentality must go

Breaking down walls among organization leaders may be the most difficult of the five steps. The silo mentality is the all too common tendency by association departments to wall themselves off from other departments to protect their own turf and meet their narrowly defined revenue goals.

Cross departmental planning and collaborative execution is essential to succeed with corporate partners, and a membership organization won’t succeed if it’s locked into the silo mentality.

2. Plan and bundle by topic

Corporations align with the organization’s mission by topic, not by the silos they have created. Identify all products and services by topic or product line across the entire organization, particularly the three heavyweight departments—education, publications, and meetings. Next, segment them by area of interest or field of study. Then, assign to each subject the appropriate education tracks, publication themes, meeting topics, seminar subjects, and so forth.

3. Select appropriate prospects

Next, design customized proposals for each of the topics and invite prospective partners to participate. This gives sponsors the opportunity to associate with an array of member products and services throughout the organization throughout the year. Because they will receive far broader exposure than before, they can be asked to invest at appropriately higher levels.

4. The Corporate Circle

This is an important component in corporate sponsorship development because it establishes goals, creates incentives, and rewards the most active partners. Creating a priority point system enables the association to steer investments to areas such as education and scholarships, activities the organization considers priorities. A Corporate Circle of supporters also holds tremendous cachet.

Marquee benefits often include high profile house ads thanking the Corporate Circle, VIP invitations to board events, and private briefings with the president and the board chair.

5. Visit your Top 10

Armed with an integrated proposal and a path to the Corporate Circle, an association has fresh reasons to visit its top 10 most likely corporate prospects. Organizations become more attractive to sponsors who can “be, gain, and become” good corporate citizens whose investment—and return on investment—is greater than before. Time and again, they find the partner extremely impressed with the ability to design and present a year round package to them.

The voice of experience

The National Business Officers Association (NBOA) implemented these five steps for a corporate partnership model with considerable success. Executive Director Jeff Shields, FASAE, championed the initiative.

“We very quickly realized a 45 percent increase in non-dues revenue. The revenue is crucial, but even more appreciated was the letter we received from a small institution that was able to enroll in NBOA thanks to a scholarship funded by a corporate partner. The school was thrilled to receive the member benefits and the sponsor was proud to be elevated to the NBOA Corporate Circle because of their scholarship funding. That’s a win-win if ever there was one.”

A final word

Jeff Shields will be joined by MGI Sponsorship Strategies Consultant Brent Mundt to present the NBOA case study at the March 21st ASAE Alexandria Brown Luncheon at 12 noon held at MGI’s J. Scott McBride Education Center on the fourth floor, 625 North Washington Street. Anyone interested may attend. Preregistration is required. ASAE members can earn CAE credit. Arrive at 11:30 a.m. to network.

The case study will also be presented at a Learning Lab at ASAE in Atlanta this August.

Brent heads the MGI Sponsorship Strategies consultancy practice. For further information, he may be reached at or 703.706.0315.

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